It is illegal to drive a motor vehicle in Queensland if you have illicit drugs present in your body.
Therefore, you will be charged with the offence of drug driving if the police catch you driving with illegal drugs in your system.
Drug driving offences are dealt with in Magistrates Courts unless they are connected to more serious offences such as dangerous driving.
Levels of Offences
There are two different levels of drug driving offences. These levels are relevant because the Magistrate’s penalties depend on the offence you have been charged with.
Occasionally, a person can be charged with a more serious offence even though there is no evidence for it. In that situation, we may be able to negotiate the charge to a lesser offence.
The two levels of drug driving offences are driving with a drug present and driving under the influence.
Driving While a Relevant Drug is Present
If the police detect certain drugs in your saliva sample or your blood, you can be charged with the offence of driving while a relevant drug is present. This offence is considered to be the less serious drug driving offence.
The three drugs that standard police drug tests can detect are:
- THC (the main active ingredient in cannabis)
- Methylamphetamine (commonly known as speed or ice)
- MDMA (the main active ingredient in ecstasy)
Importantly, the police do not need to prove that you were under the influence of drugs. In other words, you can be guilty of this offence even if you are not affected by drugs in any way. All the police need to prove is the presence of drugs while you were driving.
Driving Under the Influence of Drugs
The police will charge you with driving under the influence of drugs if they believe your driving was affected by your drug use.
This offence is considered much more serious than just driving with a drug present. This is because your ability to drive safely has been impacted. Therefore, you are at a greater risk of causing harm to other road users and the general community.
The Drug Testing Process
Random roadside drug testing allows authorised police officers to conduct saliva testing for the presence of drugs, either together with random breath testing (RBT) or as a stand-alone test.
The saliva test takes 3-5 minutes. If it produces a negative result, you will be free to leave.
However, suppose it produces a positive reading confirming that drugs have been detected. In that case, you will need to provide a second sample for another test. If the second test is also positive, your driver’s licence will be suspended and you will be given a notice to attend court.
Although saliva tests will not detect legal prescription drugs such as cold and flu medication and painkillers, some of these are still not safe to drive with in your system.
If a police officer reasonably suspects that your driving ability has been affected by any legal or illegal drug, they can request a blood sample for analysis. The blood specimen will then be sent to a lab for a blood test.
What About Prescription Drugs?
Many people do not realise that you can also be charged with drug driving even if you’ve only been taking prescribed medications.
A standard roadside drug test will not detect the presence of prescription medications. However, you can be charged with driving under the influence of a prescription drug if it has affected your ability to drive safely.
This usually occurs in one of the following ways:
- You take too much of the prescription medication; or
- You mix the medication with alcohol or other medications.
In both cases, you can commit a serious drug driving offence if you are driving while under the influence of a prescription drug.
Drug Driving Penalties
The penalties for drug driving in Queensland can be severe. They can involve lengthy licence disqualification periods and potential terms of imprisonment. It is therefore essential that you obtain legal representation to ensure you get the lightest penalty possible.
The actual punishment imposed, however, depends on several different factors:
The Offence Type
There is a big difference between driving with a relevant drug present and driving under the influence of a drug.
If you are convicted of the less serious offence of driving with a drug present, your licence might only be disqualified for one month. You may also be given a relatively small fine of just a few penalty units.
However, if you are convicted of driving under the influence, you will face heavier penalties. The minimum period of licence disqualification will be six months, and you may face a term of imprisonment. If you are given a fine, it will be a lot higher.
Your Class of Licence
The type of licence you hold is also relevant. You will face more severe penalties if you held a Provisional or Learner licence at the time of the offence.
Your Traffic History
A Magistrate will take into account your previous traffic record when deciding what punishment is appropriate.
If this is your first drug driving offence, the Magistrate may treat the offence as being out of character. Each subsequent offence, however, increases the minimum penalties that a Magistrate can impose.
Other common traffic offences, such as drink driving and speeding, will also be taken into account.
The Circumstances of the Offence
The Magistrate will take into account the circumstances of the offence.
Some things that a Magistrate might consider are:
- Whether the police stopped you for a random drug test, or because you were driving erratically;
- Whether you cooperated with the police;
- Any damage you might have caused (for example, by hitting another vehicle).
What Happens After a Licence Disqualification?
A licence disqualification means that you no longer have a valid licence. Therefore, you cannot simply start driving again once your licence disqualification ends.
Once your period of disqualification has ended, you will need to obtain a new licence from the Department of Transport and Main Roads. Of course, you cannot drive to the Department for this purpose, as you will still be unlicensed until you obtain your replacement licence.
You should not need to complete any tests to get a new licence after a disqualification period ends. However, you will most likely be issued a Probationary license (even if you held an Open licence previously).
Probationary Licences last for one year, and they have certain conditions and restrictions that apply. It would be best to ask what conditions might apply when applying for your new licence.
What If You Drive during a Licence Disqualification?
If a court disqualifies your licence but you choose to drive during the disqualification period, you will be charged with disqualified driving.
This is a very serious traffic offence and can result in imprisonment. At a minimum, your licence will be disqualified for a further two-year period.
Do You Need a Licence for Work?
A person’s driver licence must be disqualified if they are convicted of drug driving in Queensland.
However, in some instances, a person may be able to apply for a work licence. If the application is successful, they will be able to continue driving for work purposes, even though their licence is otherwise disqualified.
Unlike a special hardship order, a work licence does not allow a person to drive for any other reason than work.
To be eligible for a work licence, you must convince a Magistrate of several different things, including:
- You were only charged with driving with a drug present (you cannot apply if charged with driving under the influence);
- You need your licence to continue earning your income;
- Your licence has not been suspended or disqualified in the last five years (some exceptions apply);
- You hold the correct licence type.
Unless you are self-employed, you will also need to provide an affidavit from your employer confirming that you need your driver licence for your job.
If you think that you might need a drug driving work licence, contact us now to discuss.
The Role of a Drug Driving Lawyer
Drug driving charges are treated very seriously by the courts. It is therefore strongly recommended that you hire a drug driving lawyer to represent you in court.
An experienced traffic lawyer will work with you to reduce any punishment you will receive. In particular, your drug driving lawyer should know the exact traffic laws to rely on to argue for a lighter penalty.
In addition, your lawyer will guide you through the entire process from start to finish. This takes away a lot of the stress from your case as you will not need to worry about what to say in court, how you should prepare etc.
How Harper Finch Lawyers can Help
Our firm has expert traffic lawyers who are available to help you today.
We know Queensland’s drug driving laws back-to-front, and we know how to argue them in court for your benefit.
Our team will take care of your court appearances, obtaining police reports, and providing expert advice on steps you need to take and everything else required.
If you have been charged with drug driving, contact us now for an obligation-free chat.